Friday, February 26, 2010

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Tonight!

When I was in graduate school, I saw a variety of my heroes, some of them religious. I even got to see Elie Wiesel. I don't remember what he said, but I remember being inspired.

Now that I am older, and part of a school that can't afford to bring internationally known people to campus, I don't do as much of that. I still routinely see my favorite poets at other schools, and that's nice. But it's been a long time since I've seen anyone famous who inspired me in a theological way.

Perhaps tonight will mark a change. One of my friends also works for a larger school here in South Florida, and she got me a ticket to see Archbishop Tutu. She tried for tickets to see the Dalai Lama, who is also in town this week, but those were more popular. Make of that what you will.

I'm much happier to be seeing Archbishop Tutu, who has inspired me so much throughout my life. I remember that in the 1980's, my father and I didn't agree on much politically, but he was always in favor of harsher sanctions against South Africa, and Tutu was a favorite of us both. I remember admiring Archbishop Tutu's gentle demeanor but firm moral stance during those years. I never saw him get angry, but he had an insistence about what was right.

It's interesting to read old interviews with him. I have a book of Rolling Stone interviews from the 1980's, and the interviewers talk about their amazement at his lack of security. And he's refreshingly unconcerned: "If you begin worrying about that, you might as well just stay at home and sleep."

What's more haunting about this interview are the questions about the future of South Africa. He claims the country is a powder keg, just a smidge away from all out revolution. And in 1985, when the interview took place, he was right. He talks about wanting Nelson Mandela to be free, so that he (Tutu) can go back to the job of being a pastor. I'm sure that he had no idea that it was even possible, or maybe he had more hope than the rest of us. In this interview, you can see the beginnings of what will lead to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one of the more amazing developments I've seen in my lifetime.

I remember some of my friends at UVa, who built shantytown shacks on the Lawn, to protest the university's investment in South Africa. I remember my friend Strick, who wore his "Free Nelson Mandela" t-shirt, but we never thought it would happen. I remember the day that it did happen, the breaking news, how I held my breath because I was sure he would be shot in the back. I remember the elections in 1994, when South Africans stood in line for days (literally, days!) to vote for Mandela.

And I remember Archbishop Tutu, the steady hand, the voice of reason and moral truth, the shepherd, leading his flock to a post-Apartheid world. I feel fortunate that I get to see him tonight.

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